Justice Albie Sachs

Date of Birth

30 January 1935


BA LLB (University of Cape Town), PhD (Sussex University)

History at the Court:

Appointed: 13 October 1994

Retired: 11 October 2009

Brief biography

Justice Sachs’ career in human rights activism started at the age of seventeen when, as a second year law student at the University of Cape Town, he took part in the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign. Three years later, he attended the Congress of the People at Kliptown where the Freedom Charter was adopted.

He started practice as an advocate at the Cape Bar aged 21. The bulk of his work involved defending people charged under discriminatory statutes and repressive security laws, many of whom were faced with the death sentence. He himself was investigated by the security police, subjected to banning orders restricting his movement and eventually placed in solitary confinement without trial for two prolonged spells of detention.

In 1966 Justice Sachs went into exile. After spending eleven years studying and teaching law in England, he worked for a further eleven years in Mozambique as law professor and legal researcher.

In 1977 Justice Sachs accepted the position as Professor of Law at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, and from 1983 he served as the Director of Research in the Ministry of Justice until his attempted assassination in 1988, in which he was injured by a bomb placed in his car in Maputo by South African security agents. As a result, he lost an arm and the sight in one eye.

During the 1980s, working closely with Oliver Tambo, he helped draft the ANC’s Code of Conduct, as well as its statutes. After recovering from the bomb explosion, he devoted himself full-time to preparations for a new democratic Constitution for South Africa. In 1990 he returned to South Africa and, as a member of the Constitutional Committee and the National Executive of the ANC, took an active part in the negotiations which led to South Africa becoming a constitutional democracy.

Justice Sachs became the founding director of the South African Constitution Studies Centre, which moved to the University of the Western Cape in 1992. It was here that he was made Professor Extraordinary and appointed an honorary professor in the Faculty of Law at theUniversity of Cape Town.

In addition to his work at the Constitutional Court, he has travelled to many countries sharing South Africa’s experience in healing divided societies. He has also been engaged in the sphere of art and architecture, and played an active role in the development of the Constitutional Court building and its art collection on the site of the Old Fort Prison in Johannesburg.

Justice Sachs has been awarded over 10 honorary doctorates form various universities around the world, including:

·        the University of Cape Town;

·        Edinburgh University;

·        Princeton University; and

·        the University of York.

Justice Sachs is also the author of several books, including The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law (which won the 2010 Alan Paton Prize),Advancing Human Rights in South Africa and The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs.

Selection of Judgments written